Sunday, May 01, 2005
Bloggers threaten lab chief's position
Scientists and engineers at Los Alamos are calling for changeNew York Times
A blog rebellion among scientists and engineers at Los Alamos, the federal government's premier nuclear weapons lab, is threatening the tenure of its director, G. Peter Nanos.
Four months of jeers, denunciations and defenses of Nanos' management recently culminated in dozens of signed and anonymous messages concluding his days were numbered.
The postings to a public Web log conveyed a mood of self-congratulation tempered with sober discussion of what comes next.
"Some here will celebrate that they have been able to run the sheriff out of Dodge," scientist and Nanos defender Gary Stradling wrote Tuesday on the blog.
"It might be a good idea," he added, "to shut down the celebration and form a work party to clean up Dodge City, because the new sheriff will if we do not."
It's a delicate time for the lab. The University of California, which has helped run the lab for the government since the days of the Manhattan Project, faces close scrutiny in Washington as to whether its contract should be renewed.
Resignations and fears of a mass exodus have roiled the waters. Some analysts think that, given the public outcry, the university will have to abandon Nanos in order to make a tenable bid to keep its contract.
Nanos would not comment.
Some visitors to this forum have suggested that the Blog is full of “whiners” or have suggested that it is a threat to our National security. These suggestions are made out of ignorance about the Laboratory and its history. At its origin, the Laboratory was endowed with a spirit of debate, and open discourse on important issues. All characteristics associated with the best in American society.
Early in the existence of the Laboratory, a key decision was made after vigorous debate regarding the degree of openness within the confines of the secret Laboratory. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves led the opposing sides of this debate. Oppenheimer favored openness with the hope that many keen minds would be exposed to critical problems improving the chances for solution. Groves favored secrecy and compartmentalized work. Oppenheimer won and we are all safer and more secure for it. The success of the Manhattan Project was in large part due to the open atmosphere inside the Laboratory during WWII.
Thus open debate and dissent on important issues became a cornerstone of the Los Alamos culture. I submit that this cultural characteristic is as American as apple pie and stands at the very core of Los Alamos’ identity. This Blog is a result of the view that current Laboratory management stood squarely opposed to these values. As a result, the employees sought alternative avenues to discuss issues critical to them and their future. In the past there would have been vigorous internal dissent and most of you visiting would have been completely oblivious to it, but safer and more secure as a result. Now that dissent internal to Lab has been shutdown, it has spilled onto the Internet. Many of the employees now believe that the Laboratory management cannot be trusted, do not harbor dissent and are not interested in debate. This Blog is the reaction. Above all, the culture of Los Alamos values the truth, open dissent and honest debate.
The people working at the Laboratory entered into a social contract that included the legacy of Oppenheimer with the right to open debate and dissent within the Laboratory. There is the perception that current Lab management does not seem to understand this and have violated this social contract through their recent actions. There are many reports of the management attacking the Laboratory’s culture. These reported attacks have included an assault on the spirit of debate and dissent. In essence the employees feel that management turned their backs on the legacy given to them. The reaction of the employees could have been expected. Given the opportunity to engage in a dialog in an unfettered environment such as this Blog, people did what came naturally to them.
Hopefully the future will allow the necessary dissent and debate to occur within the confines of the Laboratory making this forum an unnecessary outlet. Hopefully the United States will have this Laboratory to help protect the Nation with the best in science. It is tragic that seemingly inept and careless management is destroying the Laboratory during a time when the Nation needs scientific answers to critical security issues. September 11th taught us all that we are at risk. Our National defense depends on our supremacy in Science and Engineering. This supremacy is not secure and a true National resource is slipping from our collective grasp. This need not happen.
One way to interpret the mission of the Laboratory is to help provide the Nation and its citizens greater safety and security. If the Laboratory continues to decline, all of us will be less safe and less secure.
These views are mine as a private citizen.